Friday, December 21, 2007

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan : Sand Castles - Day 4

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1.
Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2.
Jodhpur, Rajasthan : Blue City - Day 3.

Jodhpur was a great stop in the trip, staying in the old city gave a wonderful twist to our stay there that we would have missed out on if we had stayed in the resorts - its definitely on our "go-back" lists for the annual music festival. But the road beckons...

KM Marker: 17465 km, 7.10 AM Oct 30th 2007

Early morning just as Jodhpur rises, we fired up the old trusty Swift and crept out of the old city's narrow lanes hoping and praying that some other "tourist" hadn't had the same idea to come the other way - thankfully we wound our way out. It was the dawn of Day 4 and we were heading to Jaisalmer - we had heard so much about Jaisalmer so the excitement was mounting!

The road to Jaisalmer was very good as we're coming to expect from Rajasthan - good job Govt. - how often can you say that aloud?! This drive also had its share of people / livestock sauntering across the road oblivious to oncoming traffic - but we're now used to it. We're told in Jodhpur that the Indian army maintains the roads in these parts - Jaisalmer is about 150 km from the Pakistan border.

Jaisalmer : 11 AM - yes, we were driving crazy fast! Its about 280 KM. Do the math..

We had signed up to stay at Mandir Palace, again picked out of our LP lineup, incidentally, Jaisalmer was the only place where we had trouble finding a room at first go - everything was booked out - Jaisalmer is a smallish town that thrives ONLY on tourism - so if you're headed there it would be wise to confirm your bookings in advance.

Mandir Palace, Jaisalmer, RajasthanMandir Palace was the last car accessible point before the old city started - intelligently the local authorities had blocked 4 wheeler traffic into the old city. We were expecting a old palace / haveli kind of setup and entered from the secondary entrance of the hotel - going past horses / cattle - wondering what we'd picked. We round a corner and couldn't believe our eyes - the most beautiful lattice work confronted us - this became a recurring theme and we kept expecting the lattice work to become even more audacious and intricate - which it kept getting - yes, Jaisalmer is very pretty!

So, it turns out that Mandir Palace is actually a palace - the king of Jaisalmer lives in one wing and the other has been leased out to become a hotel - the palace does have a mandir on the premises - hence the name - all this time we cant believe our luck that we found this place - its too pretty to describe in words - our room is a bit cramped as LP had noted - but hey we're living in the King's palace without burning a major hole in the pocket - I'm alright with that! :)

I have to note a place we went for lunch - Nachana Haveli - seemed like a great place to stay (we couldn't get a reservation) - and great food as well - we also bumped into one of the "royals" which was kind of a funny story. Recommended though - we'd probably seek that place out the next time we head out to Jaisalmer.

Jaisalmer Fort, Jaisalmer, RajasthanThe primary Jaisalmer attraction is its fort - which is a residential fort, meaning that this is the only fort in the world where real people live. The spiel is that people always lived in the fort since it was built - after independence when the kings couldn't maintain the forts anymore, they either converted them into hotels or gave it up to the government - the King of Jaisalmer had other ideas - he picked the third option which was to hand it over to the residents of the fort! The only condition was that they couldn't sell their homes.

Lonely PlanetI thought this was a cool thing for a King to do - but cut to 2007 and modern living has taken its toll on the fort - its supposedly on the list of endangered monuments of the world. Since Jaisalmer has no industry apart from tourism, residents have converted their homes into hotels, home stays and run sundry shops selling curios to tourists. LP advises tourists to stay away from hotels in the fort because its contributing to the problem (retrofitting such an old fort for modern amenities no doubt takes its toll) - but what will the people do? They can't just pickup and start off somewhere else - its a stalemate - go see the fort while its still around.

The fort construction itself is unique, no water / mortar was used in making this fort - the whole fort was built with stones that have an interlocking mechanism that doesn't require any mortar to keep it together - ingenious - and appropriate in a place where water is scarce.

Child BeerSo, we head to the fort, at the entrance we're met with a classic gem of mis-spelling by a alcohol shop selling "Child Beer"!!! We take on a guide and begin our trip of the fort - the fort has its set of defenses, winding road so that elephants cant mount battering ram attacks, progressive viewing vantage points for the defense, spiked doors - by now this is all too familiar, hell I could build a fort we've seen so many! :))

As we enter the fort we're just taken back by the amazing lattice work we start seeing, its everywhere like a plague, but in a good way! :) We take in the poor attempt at a museum by the local King - after Mehrangarh this is a joke! However the fort is so pretty with its lattice work, its just amazing. The fort itself is a maze, maps of the fort are readily available - but a guide is easier / convenient.

Inside Jaisalmer Fort, Rajasthan

Inside Jaisalmer Fort, Rajasthan
As we make our way through throngs of locals selling something or the other we come upon a series of Jain temples which abound in Rajasthan - the work is different from the rest of the fort - the temples were made inside the fort by Jains so that they would survive ransacking from invaders - its definitely pretty, the work is different from the rest of the fort - its done by artisans who worked on the Somnath temple.

Jaisalmer Old City, Jaisalmer, RajasthanSo we're OD'ed on the lattice work, we reach a vantage point from where the entire city is visible, nice - we can see the other big attractions of Jaisalmer, the Haveli's (Patwa etc) - we're of course living in one attraction - Mandir Palace!

Wedding Invitation, Jaisalmer, RajasthanOne fun thing we came across was the system of inviting people for marriages - so, what people do is - they paint a big Ganesh picture - write the name / date-time of the marriage and thats the invite - no distribution and everyone is welcome. The invite stays up till the NEXT wedding in the same house - so all over Jaisalmer, predominantly in the fort you see these invites - so cool.

All the guidebooks and advice we got on Jaisalmer talked about how painful it was to deal with the camel safari people. OK - so Camel Safari - Jaisalmer is in the desert (surprise!) - the locals have fashioned various levels of "Camel Safaris" - and there is cut-throat competition to get your business for these safari's - ofcourse there are some recommended vendors - but by and large its pretty crazy - needless to say our guide had "recommendations"! :) We were too tired to deal with the safari people and both of us are not particularly fond of camels - so we deferred that for the next day.

Patwa Ki Haveli, Jaisalmer, RajasthanWe had a sorta pushy kind of guide, he gave us a lot of information, but it was a little hard to get rid of him - anyhow - he ended up taking us through some internal roads to Patwa Ki Haveli, which is again a wonderful demonstration of lattice work - by now we had grown de-sensitized to the lattice work - how much beauty can you see / absorb!

Deciding that we had our fill for the day - we stalled the sight-seeing and set off in pursuit of bedsheets - Rajasthan is famous for its bedsheets etc - the rule of the game is of course bargaining - then its up to you how much patience you have - you can easily pay only 40% of the initially quoted values - lower if you are really good at it - the wife is semi-good at it, I suck - we got a big discount - but still left feeling "had" - oh well!

We headed back to the hotel for some much needed rest, the rest of the day we spent wandering a little bit in the streets of old Jaisalmer and wound up with a nice dinner on the roof of a hotel just behind Mandir Palace with local music playing in the background and a beautiful view of the sand castle fort in the foreground. This was as far as we had planned to drive - Jaisalmer was definitely worth extending all the way from Mumbai.

Jaisalmer. Half Full...

Rajasthan road trip pictures.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mumbai's Big Turn Off - Post Mortem

The day came and went and we all felt like we did *something* and got off our collective armchairs. We collected some stats for our building and found that during the period when the lights were off, we were able to save about 29 units on the average overall for the building (just one wing, since we were tracking only one, we have 4 wing in all) - this is roughly equal to the load of about two full households. Thats pretty good savings.

We had about a 70/80% participation, a lot of our residents showed up for a power-free hour and did what we used to do as kids when the power went out - people mingled, the older folks knew exactly what to do - the kids were somewhat at a loss - since in Bombay power cuts are rare! :) It was a good experiment and fun at the same time.

We got press coverage as well
Times Of India - Batti Bandh

and a flip side article
DNA Coverage for Batti Bandh - Why it was bad idea

in which an IIT professor points out how this well meaning exercise could well have tripped the main power grids! Yikes! The knee jerk is to say - cmon, say it ain't so - but it makes sense when you read it - primary power grids are most likely programmed to generate the average expected load - so they'll do it no matter what - unless we can gradually drive down the average by driving down consumption on a daily basis!

If nothing else - Batti Bandh served to raise awareness amongst people and importantly kids - atleast you end up hearing kids telling their parents to switch off - thats probably the biggest outcome of this exercise! The organisers estimate that there was a 10/20% savings in electricity during the period - in my opinion the event was not publicised enough and the major electricity providers (Tata / Reliance / BSES) were not roped into the exercise - thats too bad. Well - atleast *someone* did *something*, WE all did something and thats one better than talking global warming while sipping our whiskeys in our air conditioned rooms!

Thanks for the support.
I Read Ok : I am Guilty of Global Warming
5 foot 5 : Mumbai Unplug
Mind Fucked : Freedom at 7.30

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mumbai's Big Turn Off

4 Days to GO. Mumbai Unplug is happening on Dec 15 2007 between 7.30 PM and 8.30 PM - its a simple idea and the sceptical argue that it wont make much of a difference - but as your mom would say - Its the thought that counts - perhaps it will make people stop and think and take the fight for Global Warming beyond the comfortable A/C cooled whiskey fueled arm-chair activism!

My stance - lets join and create a buzz online - hopefully more people will join. Its a small dent in global warming - and a big noise for awareness! If you're doing something for Batti Bandh or for conservation please share with us on this post.

Here's a badge if you want to decorate your blog to show support!

We're coordinating lights out in our community where we live - worthwhile to try to do the same in yours - if not all the lights - atleast most of them. Next post on how our Batti Bandh went.

Turn it off! Turn it off!

batti bandh

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Jodhpur, Rajasthan : Blue City - Day 3

Rajasthan Road Trip - Day 1.
Udaipur, Rajasthan : City of Lakes, Venice of the East - Day 2.

Driving from Udaipur to Jodhpur is quite a surprise. It takes you through green mountains and valleys that you don't really associate with Rajasthan. Saw a lot of charming water wheels in the villages. Be prepared for the villagers to hound you if you stop anywhere to take pictures though. Go over the water wheel and see for yourself :).

A couple of wrong turns and flunky checks later, we reached Jodhpur. Jodhpur was by god the best experience in our tri-city tour.
The business minded Marwari families of Jodhpur do not rely on tourism for their livelihood. This leaves you to explore the city peacefully without aggressive peddlers. Old city Jodhpur did not disappoint us either. Narrow galli's (impossible to take the car through them, no matter how much you try; we did try, we really don't learn do we!). Churan shops, old men playing cards in the neighborhood prayer hall. It's amusing to walk through the lanes just watching them.

Singhvi Haveli, Jodhpur, RajasthanWe stayed in an old-fashioned Singhvi Ki Haveli in the old city. I really like the old houses, they seem to add a room on top of others like lego blocks, and to get there, just put up a few stone blocks. Ours was the Maharani Suite, 4 flights of stairs up and you are on top of the city! I will highly recommend Singhvi Ki Haveli, it has an amazing view of the Blue City and of the Mehrangarh fort! The lucky few are also graced by a performance of monkey's indulging in procreation activities... haa, quite a sight. No, I didn't click pictures!

Blue City, Jodhpur, RajasthanMehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, Rajasthan

The towering Mehrangarh fort is the most tourist friendly fort I've seen so far in India. No need of stretching your imagination here. Traditionally dressed men greet you with drum rolls as you pass through the gate! We hired a guide for the tour, but our friends swear by the audio tour which features sound bites by the royal family too.

Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur, RajasthanMehrangarh fort has the most exquisite rooms. The Marwar royals must have been a flamboyant lot! The richness they enjoyed is evident in the exquisite rooms of the fort. Moti Mahal, Phool Mahal, Sheesh Mahal and Takhat Vilas have fantastic gold painted walls and ceilings, stained glass on the jali windows! Not to forget the quirky christmas balls hanging from ceilings! Every few minutes of the tour you run into a mustachioed Rajasthani man sitting by his hookah and opium paraphernalia or a musician playing Rajasthani songs on his wooden flute... it was beautiful! I can't stop gushing about the fort's amazing arrangement.

Jali Windows, RajasthanAnd just like Disneyland or Vegas, it all ends in a museum shop :). But the souvenirs on offer are quite unique...miniature paintings on old stamp papers.

Ghanta Ghar, Clock Tower, Jodhpur, RajasthanThe Ghanta Ghar (clock tower) Market is an interesting place to just wander around. Didn't particularly enjoy the much touted Makhaniya Lassi (it was like having a glass of shrikhand!) or the Mawa Kachori. I would really like to see the statistic on diabetes in Jodhpur, they seem to have a fondness for really really really sweet eatables :).

Bishnoi Woman, Jodhpur, RajasthanOne thing we fell for and didn't really enjoy was the Bishnoi Village tour. We thought it would be a good opportunity to see the villages of India, specially seeing that the Bishnoi's had become so known since the Salman Khan case (just between us, it was the mention of an opium ceremony that hooked us in!). Instead of getting a dekko into the natural settings of village life, it seemed staged, with the villagers knowing just the right camera angles that tourists would like to capture. The saving grace were the peacocks, black bucks and deer you get to see wandering near the villages.

One thing that we missed by a day was the Rajasthan International Folk Festival that is held every year during Sharad Poornima (full moon) in the fort. Wouldn't it be great to listen to music sitting in the fort, all lit up at night! A great reason for us to revisit Jodhpur next year :).

Jodhpur. Check.

Jaisalmer, Rajasthan : Sand Castles - Day 4

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